Surprising, this was my last Coati Kid’s Club. I started helping with these for the very start of my internship and time went faster than I expected. By now I was quite familiar with how these classes went; lecture, museum, snacks, and a craft, but it was still as enjoying as ever to assist in them. I just like hanging around kids, I guess.
The subject of this meeting was pack rats, those wily little buggers. There was a table with information on how to safely remove pack rats in the back of the classroom, with no-kill traps put on display. As I looked over the traps, memories of a teacher telling me how he just drowned any pack rats he caught began to echo in my head. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.
Children were encouraged to bring in their collections, because pack rats also collect stuff, right? One child brought in plastic fantasy figures, another kid brought in rocks, there was a girl with a bug collection, one kid brought in even more rocks, and I think there might have been one last kid who also brought rocks. This was a valuable lesson in appealing to younger audiences, as I have now learned that children really like rocks. I would change my comic’s subject to Sonoran geology but unfortunately I have already left the time frame to do so. Maybe I could just draw a bunch of rocks in the background of the panels, that might work.
One other focus of the club was a future exhibit being planned for the museum, a child oriented activity area based around pack rats. It was made to be more like a play pen than a usual museum exhibit, but also had educational elements interwoven. The premise was that the children could play like pack rats, and by going through the play pen they would have a greater understanding of pack rat’s environment. It was a pretty charming idea, the kind of stuff I think I would’ve enjoyed as a kid. Thankfully, despite being a legal adult I am 5’2″ and could easily fit in most children’s playgrounds.
I’ve really enjoyed helping with these clubs for the last few months, and I’ll be sad to be no longer participating as a volunteer. Still, I really hope I can continue to help, since these have been very enlightening for planning out my project.
The second to last day of my spring break was by far one of the most interesting and action-packed days I have ever experienced. It was truly an adventure. I felt that is was more important to tell this story than it was to summarize my week, because quite frankly this one day defined my entire trip to Oregon.
Before I dig in, I need to give some backstory:
There is a place called Tamolitch Blue Pool in the Western Cascades that I hiked to with a friend of mine. It’s a beautiful natural spring of crystal clear extremely blue water. It also has a seasonal waterfall and it feeds the McKenzie river. Below are some photos for reference:
The day I hiked here with my friend, I was three hours late to bring her home. Her parents were irate and grounded her. I apologized to them in person, but feeling blue, I brainstormed a way to remember what was honestly an amazing day and make everyone feel better. The product of this brainstorming was to hike the two mile trail at night, shine a flashlight underwater in the pool, and get a long exposure wide angle shot of the pool with the stars at night. I will explain more details later, because it was far more complicated, but I specifically picked this Saturday because of the clear weather. In addition to this, I had spent the week researching the Oregon Slender Salamander and the places to find them. Good habitat for them happened to be in the Western Cascades very close to the blue pools, as well as lots of other cool herpetofauna that I wanted to find. As a last ditch effort to find cool herpetofauna, get out exploring, and help my friends emotional health, I decided to go out with my friends from camp, estuary field instructor, Indusium, and Alpine cabin area leader, Gecko to accomplish my goals. They had offered earlier to help me with my project and expressed interest in going out together. So we all piled in my Ford and listened to the same two CD’s I had in my car on repeat.
The starting point for my adventure was Silverton, OR, about a 45 minute drive from Salem, OR, where I was staying. Our first stop (aside from the gas station) would be an interesting bog research site about 2.5 hours south deep within the Cascades. It was here that the northernmost population of Foothills Yellow-legged Frogs resided.
I had to take the highway to get there obviously, so I hopped on I-5, quickly made my way over to the left lane, and sped up to about 70-75 to catch up to the cars in front of me. I then noticed an oddly parked car under a bridge. “Hey, that’s a strange place for a car to park!” Then I realized it was a highway patrol car. A few seconds later and flashing blue and red lights were behind me. I pulled over and was informed of the speed I knew I was going, and then the speed limit. 60 miles per hour! Insane! Everyone on the highway was going between 65 and 75 miles per hour, with most cars driving a hair under 70. I had no idea the speed limit was 60. I thought it was 65, but apparently Salem I-5 is a famous speed trap where the speed limit lowers by 5 mph and cops pull over people at will. For whatever reason, Oregon invested a large amount of money in a fleet of unmarked Ford Mustang GT cop cars, and they literally camp around near on ramps or in the shadows of bridges, just waiting to pull people over. I had actually seen one pull over a US Postal Service truck earlier because apparently the mafia uses them to smuggle drugs. Whatever. Oregon speed limits are dumb, and I got my first speeding ticket! This all occurred with my friends in the car, which was actually quite helpful.
After an absolute killjoy in the first 30 minutes, I drove past a monotonous expanse of rolling green hills, and eventually made it to the foothills of the Cascades. I passed by covered bridges, beautiful mountain views, a lake, and a river! Like most of Oregon, the sites were awesome. Then I got to my turnoff (and missed it at first, making a dangerous U-turn shortly after). I pulled into the forest service road, and no more than 30 seconds later I was met with a six foot wall of snow. A six foot wall of snow that continued for the entire duration of the road to the bog. There were no frogs out. Not in this. So all I could do was go to the next stop…
Which proved rather difficult. I planned this entire trip so that each stop was within around 20 miles of each other. This first one was the most south, and afterwards I would continue north, stopping at the next stop, and then finishing at blue pools at night. I was correct in my planning, each site was roughly 20 miles apart. It would be able 26 minutes of driving to the next stop.
EXCEPT IT WASN’T. Not even close.
Due to the fact Oregon is terrible at building roads (they are all dangerous with very little markings at night, plentiful potholes, intentionally poor rough patches, not enough lanes, and slow speed limits), there was no route through the mountains going North. There were plenty going all of the other directions, just not North/South. So we had to drive around the entire damn mountain, 2 and a half hours worth of driving, all the way to the next road junction, and then back in again. It was a colossal waste of time. Despite being out of Old Growth Forest, the only habitat in which Oregon Slender Salamanders are found, we decided to stop anyways at one of the nearby streams before getting back into the car for 2.5 hours and listening to the same music again.
At our quick stop, within minutes of me saying salamanders are often found under rocks, forest debris, and logs, I flipped my lifer Oregon Ensatina. While not uncommon, these salamanders are really awesome. Below are some photos of me setting up for a photo session while Gecko holds the Ensatina for me:
After nabbing some decent photos of the little dude, we left after not finding any additional animals. My next site was a three mile trail along a creek, the end of which had prime old growth forest. It was confirmed to have Oregon Slender Salamanders, but the record was rather old.
To access this site we had to take a poorly maintained forest road littered with pot holes and fallen debris. It snaked across a dammed up valley with a breathtaking lake, and at one point we actually drove past a huge waterfall and an apparently popular hot spring area. Then we got to our road, the final drive to the trailhead! It was mysterious and foreboding. The trees hung over the road on either side, tightly hugging it. It looked like we were driving into the forest completely.
The good news was that there was no snow to block our path!
But that didn’t matter.
Sure enough, within minutes of driving down this road, a giant mound of dirt blocked our path. I did not want to risk getting stuck on it, so I did not try driving over it.
Frustrated and determined to find something, we searched the creek area next to my car for salamanders. There wouldn’t be Oregon Slender Salamanders here, but there was the possibility for some other cool species!
This was the area we were in. I put on my boat shoes and walked through the very cold water looking for Giant Pacific Salamanders, flipping rocks and looking under bark on logs for smaller salamanders. Sure enough, we found something, but it was Gecko that found the salamander this time! I was not sure what he found, but after consulting my field guide, I determined it to be a Clouded Salamander. This was definitely cooler than any Ensatina, and it was a great find! Even though Gecko found it, I was the one who captured it, carefully using my pocket knife to pry open little bits of wood so I could goad the salamander into coming out of its decayed crevice it had been living in under the bark. I had to be careful to make sure I preserved its habitat as well as possible. Below are some photos of me getting the salamander out of the log and posing it on a mossy rock for a photo:
I had to assemble and figure out how to use my new macro flash on the spot, which was definitely difficult with a very small and sensitive salamander in my care. I had to wet it often in order to ensure its skin stayed moist. The animal’s health is my main concern when taking photos. I am fairly proud of how the shots came out with my setup, as these animals are extremely small and difficult to photograph. Refer back to the photo above (look for the little black line on the moss- that’s the salamander) when viewing the photo below to see just how small it was.
In addition to this, Gecko found a Yellow-Eyed Ensatina in the same log, a different subspecies of the same Ensatina I found earlier. All and all it was a successful albeit delayed and greatly inconvenienced trip. I still wasn’t able to find any snakes or Rubber Boas though, something I really wanted to see.
After I finished up photographing salamanders while we had some interesting conversations by the creek, we got in my car and headed up to a restaurant by the McKenzie river famous for its Mac and Cheese. Luckily it was the 26 minutes away I expected it to be, and we got there just before it closed. I had delicious Mac and Cheese, Clam Chowder, and Marionberry Soda, which uses a special type of Raspberry known as a Marionberry that is only grown in Marion County, OR to flavor the drink. After a healthy amount of nazi-tattoo stories and general interesting conversation, we left the restaurant for our night hike to blue pools.
Arriving at the parking lot for the hike is an interesting experience, as a small hydro-electric dam on the McKenzie greets you at the entrance. At night it looks like a steam boat.
After hiking for what seemed like twice as long as it should have taken in complete darkness with no one around, we finally made it to the pool. Only there was one problem.
The water levels had more than TRIPLED within a few nights. The insane amount of snow melt set in motion by a couple of warm days had made the once crossable waterfall above the pools a gigantic several foot deep raging powerhouse of a stream that was literally impossible to cross. I could not get to the other side of the pools to light them from below like I had hoped.
Once we figured this out, everyone laid down next to the raging waters under the starry night sky, and rested while I played around with fairly terrible attempts at long exposure photography. The flashlight stuff didn’t work and only made my hands cold (the water was close to freezing). As a last ditch effort, I got some cool photos of the night sky above me, and rested a bit as well, enjoying the absolutely beautiful sight and sound of a raging waterfall and brilliant starlit sky.
On our way out, I stopped at the cliff-side overlook to try and get a photo of just the regular pool area. It was extremely difficult because of the overwhelming amount of mist the insanely powerful waterfall created. I was lighting up the waterfall and pools with a flashlight from a far, because it was too dark for the natural ambient light to show the surrounding landscape. After combining a few shots together, I was able to get this:
By the time we got back to the car, it was past 2:30 am.
And then my car wouldn’t start.
But thankfully after some ritualistic chanting and about 5 tries, with a little shimmy I got it to barely start.
I got home at 5am after listening to the same album over and over again, and so did everyone else.
It was totally worth it. One of the best days of my life, by far.
What a wondrous week, I got to do something other than drawing! That’s cool.
Classes were what I did! I was an assistant in two of them. One was for a field trip group, and the other was for the Coati pups program. The Coati pups program was basically an education program hosted once a month made aimed at young children and their parents. This program focused simpler topics than Coati Kids club, but I enjoy how the education department at the museum tries to provide classes for a variety of ages.
Usually the Coati pups programs had around 10+ children, according to Ms. Robin and the other volunteer, but apparently many had cancelled in the days before, leaving just one little girl, her parents, and her grandma. What a lucky kid she was! Since there was only one child today, Ms. Robin and the other adult volunteer could handle the one child well on their own, and I got to help explain things to the parents and grandmother. This was definitely the easier task, though.
One thing I’ve come to realize after assisting with these classes for a while now is just how difficult it can be to break down seemingly simple concepts to be understandable for children. The other class I assisted in was for elementary school children, but there were many more, a whole class full. As Ms. Robin lectured on birds and showed the class Luca and a barn owl, I helped pass around various artifacts; bird wings, skulls, feet, and eggs. As the objects were moving around the room, being passed from student to student, one boy called me over with a question. He was holding a hollow ostrich egg, and he asked me where the baby bird was.
There was a hole drilled into the top of the egg, and the boy peered inside of it. He handed it to me, and I looked inside as well. I wasn’t sure what I expected. I told him that the egg yolk was drained out through the hole, but the boy didn’t understand. He just wanted to know where the baby bird was. I realized I would have to explain how baby birds form from egg yolks, and early on in development the embryo would have been small enough to have been drained from the hole. I had to repeat myself a few times before he either understood, or just got bored of my rambling.
I guess this goes to show that what I thought to be common sense might not have been as common as I though, especially with younger audiences. As I write, I’ll have to make sure I’m breaking down the concepts in a way that could be simply understood.
Week 6 was spent counselling at Camp Westwind, the place of my internship. Basically, my job as a counsellor was to manage the lives of a cabin of 6th grader’s throughout the week, from morning until night, as well as to teach various groups about the estuary (one of the three field studies at Camp Westwind). It is an extremely exhausting yet rewarding full-time job that requires good leadership and improvisational skills to be successful. This would be my 5th time counselling, and it is the reason I have built such a close relationship with this place and wanted to do my internship here. I counselled to get back into the groove of camp life and acclimate myself to the camp environment, as well as start the first week off right for the camp and myself in order to set a good tone for the coming weeks.
However, I’m not here to talk about counselling and my time during this week. The most important part of this week came at the end, when I had my first meeting with Acer, my site supervisor for my internship (and camp site supervisor), about what my role should be at camp as a photographer.
Basically, she told me that she would be very happy if I would do some kind of field guide for the Salmon River Estuary, as she already has plenty of guides and information for the ocean/tide pools and the forest, the two other field studies here at Camp Westwind.
This is essentially what saved my project from being a complete disaster. At this point it was going to be extremely difficult to find enough herpetofauna to fulfill my original goal, as the coastal region is not very rich in interesting reptiles and amphibians, and I would be spending 3 out of the next 4 weeks on the coast. Understanding this, I decided to make my final product the field guide, and my research focused on how I would create it. This was the most pivotal moment of my research project.
My plan to tackle this undertaking was to first create a species list, marking definite present species based off of personal accounts and accounts by people who frequent the camp. Once I compiled a list of species on the camp, I consulted with both the estuary field instructor (Indusium) and Acer to decide what their priorities were as far as animals they wanted to include. Certain species of salamanders and invertebrates in general were either present within the estuary, or in nearby areas, but I did not include them. While the salamanders would fit in line with my original intentions to find herpetofauna, they did not represent species found within the estuary itself. There were simply too many species of invertebrates to create a comprehensive field guide for within a three week time period.
Having figured this all out, the plan was to make a field guide featuring the habitat types, all of the Reptiles and Amphibians, the most attractive and notable Birds (think Eagles), and important/unique mammals (that I could get photos of). As of this blog post, it is likely that the field guide will only be for Reptiles and Amphibians, as I have both the best photos and the best information for those animals. This could always change in the future if I ever come back to spend more time gathering photos.
With this change of direction I came into spring break a little more relaxed, as I was able to focus on researching the animals I needed and exploring Oregon instead of rushing outside to find things.
However, at the time I was still a little uncertain, and so I made a last ditch effort to find one of Oregon’s most interesting amphibians, the Oregon Slender Salamander. Check out my next blog post to hear about my epic adventure in the Western Cascades!
It constantly rained, I constantly felt tired and unmotivated, and I had little knowledge of the area or what to do. I basically spent my entire week dealing with various issues and researching stuff about the local herpetofauna.
While I was in Painted Hills, I busted the hinge system on my back door, so the glass part of my back door was falling off. You could easily rip it off and take whatever was inside. This was a huge problem considering the week after I would have what is essentially my life’s possessions (all camera equipment, computer, most of my clothes and shoes, a large wooden clock, etc.) in my car for a week while I ran around micromanaging children. I was not going to risk having my stuff stolen, or even worse, the other hinge breaking while I was driving around. Not good.
I got it fixed, but I had to wait a day for an open slot for the them to fix my vehicle, so it took a lot of time out of the week as far as days to go places and explore.
Not only that, but once my car was fixed, my computer broke. The entire time I was in Oregon I was editing photos to use for upcoming blog posts, and my computer decided it had enough. It started making screeching noises, and before I knew it, my hard drive had failed. I brought it in to Best Buy, waited another day for a diagnosis, and discovered that all of my files had been lost. It would cost hundreds of dollars to just attempt a fix, and even then it was no guaranteed. Luckily I still had photos on my SD cards and all of my finished photos were on my external drive.
However, there was more bad news. Aside from the Best Buy being an hour away, my computer, which could be fixed under the insurance I had, would not be able to be shipped back to me until a month later. This was basically the entire span of my time in Oregon.
In order for me to continue my project, I had to buy a new computer. Between having to go to another Best Buy to get the computer because it was out of stock, and purchasing necessary accessories and setting all of my programs up, another day was wasted.
Because of my own shortcomings with regards to maximizing my time, readjusting to a new environment, and having everything essential around me break, my entire week was wasted.
However, I was able to get some interesting shots of some frogs late on my second night in Oregon after some dinner.
This, and a failed hiking trip at the end of the week were my only truly successful outings in the field to find what I needed. This failure to find things during my first week here was critical in my project’s later change of direction.
This was the first photo I took of Oregon this trip. It was roughly midnight and I stopped to pull over and get this night-time long exposure because the mountains here were just too interesting for me to pass up. I expected this in Idaho, but it was interesting to see this landscape in Oregon. I quickly figured out this trip that Oregon is one of the most geographically diverse states in the county, especially considering the size.
After these photos we drove straight to the hotel, getting there extremely late. It was okay though, the hotel had comfortable beds and good air quality.
The next day we made it our goal to explore the John Day Fossil Beds a few hours away.
There were some pretty awesome sights along the way, including these geese (not that cool but the photo is cool):
And this beautiful rural scene:
Before we got to the actual fossil beds we stopped in a placed called The Corner Cafe in a very small town near the beginning of the fossil beds. It was one older man running the restaurant, and I had the best baked potato I’ve ever had. I really would like to go back there and try the burger that the one other customer in the restaurant said was “the best burger I’ve ever had!” That’s a stretch, but I’m dying to find out!
The journey to Painted Hills in the John Day Fossil bed was interesting, with trees covered in shoes and cool signage. But the actual site was much cooler. Most of these are phone photos, but it is still really cool nonetheless.
After Painted Hills we began a long drive through the backroads of Oregon to Newberg. The roads were terribly marked, and there was no cell service to speak of and almost no gas stations. In addition to this, you cannot fill your own gas in Oregon, so when a gas station closes, you’re out of luck. At some point during our drive we realized we took a wrong turn. After getting a tiny amount of service in a small town in the middle of Oregon, I looked up the nearest gas station, understanding that if we continued on the wrong route like we were doing, we would run out of gas. Our ETA said we would arrive within 5-10 minutes of the gas station closing if we turned around at that point and adjusted our course to a town we didn’t even want to go through. We did it anyways, and with our gas on E, we made it to the gas station with 5 minutes to spare. The town was out of the way, and rather creepy, but it was better than being stranded without service. We got to my Air BnB rental in Newberg at around 3am that night.
In addition to this, my back window had broke. It was a rough drive into Oregon, but I was very happy to be there. I was about to live in this little red house by myself for a week and I couldn’t be more excited!
Aside from Oregon, Idaho was by far the most interesting state to drive through. Breathtaking mountains welcomed me as I crossed the border, and despite being very close visually to Utah, it just seemed more exciting.
This was the sight from the first gas station we stopped at in Idaho. I went to an A&W for the first time and had some wonderfully horrible fast food while enjoying this view. At the same time, I also saw more pickup trucks stop at and leave from the gas station than I have ever seen before in my life. Mountains and pickup trucks seemed to outnumber people (I know this fundamentally doesn’t make sense but it was crazy).
As the sun set, we continued driving until we reached Pocatello, Southeastern Idaho’s largest town. It was not very large. I did however have good meals while I was here, with plentiful comfort food wherever you went. I especially enjoyed the Pocatello Co-op, a small little market converted from an old soda fountain joint that specialized in serving fresh foods with locally sourced ingredients. My lamb burger was delicious, and I am not a big fan of lamb.
It wasn’t until our drive northwest that things in Idaho became most interesting. My mom and I wanted to see Craters of the Moon, a huge area of lava fields with caves and holes in the lava, and to get there we had to drive through a really strange part of Idaho, let alone the world.
The area around Atomic City and Butte Falls was that strange place.
Atomic City was the first city in the world (along with Arco nearby) to run on nuclear power. Nearby was EBR-I, or Experimental Breeder Reactor 1, the first atomic reactor to produce usable electricity. This accomplishment was achieved December 20th, 1951. In 1955 Atomic City was lit. Booming during the Atomic Age, the town quickly dwindled after a series of meltdowns and explosions, most notably the SR-1 reactor explosion in 1961, drove people out of town. The town itself and the area around it is one of the most radioactively polluted areas in the United States.
Right next to Atomic City is Idaho National Laboratories, a sprawling government installation maintained and ran by the US Department of Energy. The site is extremely secretive. Trespassing at the very least attracts agents to the scene, and if you carry anything deemed to be a weapon or a threat on to the property illegally you will be “seriously injured” as stated by the hundreds of signs posted along the outskirts of the lab’s land.
There are all kinds of conspiracy and strange stories attached to this place and the areas around it. Hundreds of owls have been reported to drop dead around the area, a legitimate report from a local news outlet. It’s an eerie place with a clouded past, but it is also a source of great technological advancement. Regardless your viewpoints on this strange place, it makes for an interesting road trip. I am a huge fan of fog and secret government operations.
After we got out of the Butte Falls area, we discovered the Craters of the Moon was inaccessible due to snow. However we did stop at a very beautiful and still tremendously interesting lava field just outside the monument, and I grabbed some photos.
Later on after leaving this area we passed by the Snake River. After seeing a pixelized picture of the river in Oregon Trail last year in Dr. Rosinbaum’s class, I have always wanted to see it. I had no idea I would on this trip! Below is a phone photo of the river from a restaurant where I had lunch:
After a fantastic lunch on the Snake River, my mom wanted to see one of the waterfalls in the river. I got some interesting photos from there as well!
From here we drove to Boise, got there for dinner, and kept driving late into the night until we got to our hotel in John Day OR at about 1am.
I left Idaho a huge fan, and not because the potatoes were good or the people were friendly. It was because it’s a strange place, with lots of interesting and often overlooked qualities.
Hey, it’s time to actually make some comics! Mrs. Robin was off work this week so I was set to go off drawing on my own.
First step was to acquire the supplies: paper and pens. After some online research I headed down to Michel’s to buy some smooth Bristol paper. The paper came in 11in x 17 in sheets, in packs of 24, and could barely fit in my tiny backpack. As labeled, it was very smooth, and sliding a pen nib across the surface of the paper felt like silk.
For pens, I briefly experimented with dip pens, but quickly scrapped a work-in-progress page and resigned from that idea. Some artists can make real beautiful work with dip pens, but I’m not one of them. I just lack the dexterity and experience with my wrist, and I decided I should save learning that skill for another day. I settled on using technical pens for the linework, because they are quick drying, smudge resistant, and very convenient to carry and use. The fact I already owned a small collection of them was an additional factor.
So basically, it was a week of drawing and inking, inking and drawing, and so forth. What a time.
This week is my final week at the internship, and I already finished my presentation, so I haven’t really had anything to work on. I decided to do some research for myself, like about specific stars and telescopes. I did more research on the James Webb space telescope since it’s so close to release. I wanted to understand it’s workings a lot more. I also spent some time messing around with the program and this cool program that NASA has called “NASA’S EYES” which shows you the galaxy.
This has been a fun experience and I wanted to thank the whole team here at the Steward Observatory for making it memorable.
As many of you know I did my project with two other students and each of us worked on something a little bit different, but I wanna explain a little bit about the overall goal of the project as a whole. The goal of our project was to assess where habitable planets could be around stars within 10 parsecs and prioritize, determine which stars are already known to harbor planets, and create a target list for a future telescope biosignature survey. Our program looked a bit like this:
The results of the program look a bit like this:
The image above shows the habitable zone, in blue, around the star, the dot, and where the earth would be orbiting that star. The earth is meant to give an idea of where another planet with a similar characteristics could be and whether it would be around that stars habitable zone.
The image above shows another star and its habitable zone but in this image the earth is inside the habitable zone. Overall, the point of this is to show where astronomers should search for habitable planets.